High Score

Designer: Reiner Knizia

Artist: N/A

Publisher: KOSMOS

The merging of two games…… (Photo credits: Eric Martin@BGG)

High Score is a repackaging of sorts for Decathlon, one of the earliest roll and writes designed by Knizia. In Decathlon, players participate in ten track and field events, scoring points for each event and then tallying up the scores at the end of the game. As far as game play goes, the dice game is incredibly thematic. By that, I mean the way the dice are set aside for scoring mimics the progression for each track and field event. For instance, for the pole vault event, players start with a height of “10” and rolling dice to achieve that height. After that, they can choose to attempt another vault by selecting the height they want to attempt and getting three chances to do so. Only the final successful vault counts. I think that is pretty much what happens on the field, minus the dice of course. The best part about Decathlon is that it works with larger groups of people, with each group rolling up their scores and then tallying all the points to see which group win. This is sort of a party game, but well suited for a group of kids perhaps over summer camp or a more structured social gathering. Again, it is incredibly thematic.

High Score is more or less a spiritual descendant of Decathlon, but redesigned to suit a modern day audience that is short on time and probably a little more impatient. In short, the game is similar to Decathlon accept for the length and scoring criteria. You roll dice, put aside dice and try to score the highest point for each round and how you do that differs from round to round. Each round provides a unique challenge with a set of criteria for rolling and setting aside dice as well as for scoring. Sometimes, you may have to roll all 7 dice and set aside at least one for each roll. Other times, you may have to roll all 7 dice with no changes allowed, but have to either accept all the dice or reroll up to four times. Each of these challenge cards will also tell you how to score points. Some cards will ask you to score the sum total of all the values while others will score only odd numbers or perhaps only dice that form pairs or triplets. Finally, for each die, the “6” face value is replaced with by a vortex. This vortex can have special properties depending on what is inscribed on a challenge card. Sometimes, the vortex can have a negative value and collecting them is bad. Other times, the vortex provides a huge bonanza – but only if you can meet the criteria. In essence, each challenge cards is a unique combination of these three variables – dice rolling, scoring, special properties of the vortex. Even though the combinations can be huge, the game comes with 21 of these challenge cards. Presumably, you could string together you own combinations if desired.

DIY challenge cards

For 7 rounds, players will track their scores on a scoreboard and for each challenge, the player who gets the highest total score receives a 3 point chit, with second and third place getting 2 and 1 point chits respectively. There are no ties on the score track as the player pieces leapfrog over each other to break ties. Clearly the last person to go gets a slight advantage as know how many points is required to win a chit. After 7 rounds, players calculate all the chits and highest point total wins the game.

DIT scoring chits on wooden discs

I don’t own the commercial version of the game, but decided to design the game to closely match the published copy. The components for the game look nice, and the illustrations, though abstract, are colorful and vibrant. The card icons look great, though I must admit it would be good to supplement the icons with text to make it easier to know the challenge criteria for each round. I imagine this would make the game language dependent – something that KOSMOS probably wants to avoid by making only a single version of the game . Fortunately, there is a handy dandy copy of the rule book that explains it all. Not a big deal.

Unlike Decathlon, High Score is a quick 7-round dice rolling filler. It doesn’t take long to complete each round and the downtime is minimal. This is the part that fits the busy modern-day schedule for most family. I appreciate this change. It allows me to get a quick session in without the longer, more drawn out affair of Decathlon. However, the theme certainly takes a step backwards. As the title aptly imply, there is no theme in the game and you just want to get the highest score, period. Without a theme though, I feel the game won’t work as well with larger groups as the range of scores are narrower, with significant overlaps on the score track. High Score is best with 2-4 players, in my mind, where the down time is kept at a minimum.

Well, as I commented on another recent Knizia dice game I played, Ra: The Dice Game, Knizia knows how to limit the length of his dice game. I enjoy this game in small doses, especially with family and in between other activities or games. I don’t know if I will bother to table the game in my egular game group as I know their preferences well. It also won’t be something you pull out to impress your friends, I don’t think. However, it is likely that kids will enjoy this if they enjoy rolling dice. It really fills a niche for as a simple dice rolling game and is quite easy to craft a DIY copy, much like another game, Into the Blue. Overall, the game is decent, but made better with family and kids.

Initial impression: Average; Good (family)

Kids Corner

7 years 4 months: I am losing the battle with my kid in terms of getting her to like dice games. I had high hopes that simple dice chuckers would capture her attention, but I am not sure if she is enthused about this genre. We played Can’t Stop before and it did not grab her attention. Granted, it is tougher for her to understand probabilities at this stage. Still, I don’t think I bothered here too much with the math behind Can’t Stop, only to say that “this is an easier track to finish because it is easier to get the numbers on the dice”. Fortuitously, both High Score and Into the Blue came out back to back and I made a copy of it. High Score was “boring” for her, but she liked Into the Blue a little better. I think much of that has to do with theme, but also with the push-your-luck mechanism which is much more transparent in Into the Blue. Also, High Score is a little more tedious with the numerous scoring and rolling criteria each round that needs some explanation.

It is interesting that dice games doesn’t grab her attention as much as I thought it would. I was sure the tactile aspect of handling dice coupled with the luck aspect would gravitate her toward this genre. I am sure some kids will love the game more than others. I don’t want to give up just yet, because our plays have mostly been in the evening before bed time. She is clearly tired but still eager to play. I won’t force her to play something she is not enjoying. So this will probably take a back seat. I think I will still pull this out once in a while when she is more alert during the day time. Coming home after a long day of school tires her out in the evening.

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